Friday, August 17, 2012

Greek Canon Lists: Melito of Sardis, part 2

In my previous post, I quoted Melito's OT canon list from the late second century CE and discussed his unusual order for the Pentateuch. In this post I'll seek to answer the following question.
Did Melito include the Wisdom of Solomon in the list?

This question relates to the listing by Melito of the books of Solomon, which begins with these words: Σολομῶνος Παροιμίαι ἡ καὶ Σοφία. There are two options here: either Melito means "Of Solomon, Proverbs and [the book of] Wisdom," or he means, "Of Solomon, Proverbs, which is also [known as] Wisdom." That is, either he means two different books or two different titles for the same proto-canonical book of Proverbs.

Three reasons persuade me that he is giving two different titles for Proverbs. First, Eusebius--earlier in the same book in which he quoted Melito--informs his readers that 'Wisdom' commonly stood in for 'Proverbs' as a title for the proto-canonical book: "And not only he [= Hegesippus] but also Irenaeus and the whole company of the ancients [ὁ πᾶς τῶν ἀρχαίων χορός] called the Proverbs the All-virtuous Wisdom [πανάρετος Σοφία]" (Hist. eccl. 4.22.9, LCL translation).  

Second, Rufinus seems to have taken Melito in this way, for his translation of the Ecclesiastical History renders the phrase this way: Salomonis Proverbia quae et Sapientia

Third, I think it highly unlikely that Melito's source--whoever that was--would have included Wisdom of Solomon in a list of sacred books such as this. If his informants were Jewish, and if Jews contemporary with Melito did in fact make some use of the Wisdom of Solomon, it is still improbable that they would have listed it as a fully 'biblical' book in this way. For instance, the Jewish writer of 4Ezra 14 (ca. 100 CE) clearly wants to magnify the status of a wide variety of sacred literature (the 70 outside books), but his means of doing this does not include expanding the recognized 24-book canon beyond its normal limits. It seems as though, even for those Jews who freely make use of 'outside' books, adding such books to an official list of recognized sacred literature was not an option. (On all this see William Horbury's essay in Wisdom in Ancient Israel). 

If his informants were Christians, they would still seem to have been heavily influenced by a Jewish list of books, because that's essentially what Melito supplies (of course, without Esther, to be discussed in a later post). And we have just as little evidence that Christians would have included Wisdom of Solomon in a list of sacred books at this time--after all, Melito provides our first Christian OT canon list. While Christians at this time did make use of Wisdom of Solomon (see Horbury, already cited, and Stuhlhofer, p. 147), this book does not appear in a canon list--aside from Melito's possibly and depending on the interpretation and date of the Muratorian Fragment--until the late fourth century in some Latin sources (Mommsen Catalogue, Augustine, Breviarium hipponense).

So, it seems to me that the evidence points firmly (if not decisively) away from the supposition that Melito included Wisdom of Solomon in his list.

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